Popular Land O'Lakes High teenager dies in accident

Published June 2, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - A summer trip to Hernando Beach turned tragic Wednesday when a 15-year-old Land O'Lakes High School student died in a single-car wreck.

Michelle Ann Castle was riding in a 1991 Toyota on County Road 44 near Crystal River when the driver, 22-year-old Tristen Root of Homosassa, veered onto the north shoulder, hit a tree, continued traveling west and hit another tree, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.

Passenger Brittney Decosta, 16, was flown to a hospital, said Michelle's mother, Wanda Castle. Another passenger, 3-year-old Trista M. Byers, suffered minor injuries. Root was uninjured.

Michelle's mother said she did not know the people her daughter was with.

She said her daughter was an outgoing sort who cared about her neighbors. If she hadn't seen a elderly neighbor in awhile, she'd knock on the door to give her a hug.

"Everybody knew Michelle, " her mother said.

A look at Michelle's MySpace page showed just that.

Michelle, who called herself Meshell online, listed 337 friends, many of whom had logged in tributes.

From Miss Sara:

i remeber going to disney and riding those rides with you over and over again because they were so much fun

i miss you more then ever now i know gods taking care of you rest in peace babygirl

Another from a 15-year-old girl with hot-pink-streaked blond hair:

i will never forget when we used to play with water ballons in the winter and when we would emo scream at school..one day we will see each other again

When she wasn't online, Michelle was usually with Tyler Nutt and Brooke Latham. The two were at her mother's house Thursday reminiscing about the girl who loved the rock group Papa Roach.

"I thank God she was here for my birthday, " Brooke said. Michelle had given her a handmade card that said Happy Halloween and Merry Christmas, anything but Happy Birthday.

"I'll always remember that."

Brooke was also friends with 16-year-old Tyler Sweet, who died last month after diving into shallow water. Michelle helped her get through that loss, she said.

The trio planned to take a cruise this summer, "to Jamaica or somewhere really pretty, " Brooke said.

On her MySpace page, Michelle described herself as someone hard around the edges but soft inside:

I'm a shoulder to lean on. I'm intimidating and elitist, but I most likely want to be your friend more than you want to be mine.

A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. June 9 at Loyless Funeral Home on U.S. 41.

Lisa Buie can be reached at 813 909-4604 or toll free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.